Skip to main content

[November 14] “Unruly” Children with Jing Xu

On Thursday, November 14 from 3:30 to 5pm in HUB 337 and online, Dr. Jing Xu will discuss her latest monograph, “Unruly” Children: Historical Fieldnotes and Learning Morality in a Taiwan Village (Cambridge University Press, 2024). Click here to register or use the QR code below.

How do humans become moral persons? What about children’s active learning in contrast to parenting? What can children teach us about knowledge-making more broadly? My book explores these questions through re-discovering the late anthropologist Arthur Wolf’s unpublished fieldnotes collected in Taiwan (1958-1960). Designed as an improved replication of the Six Cultures Study of Socialization (SCS), a landmark project in the history of anthropology of childhood, Wolf’s project was the first systematic, ethnographic research on Taiwanese children and ethnic Han children more broadly. Xu analyzed this rare archive of fieldnotes, including interviews, natural observations and psychological tests, from a cognitive anthropology approach distinguished from SCS’ behaviorist paradigm. She used an innovative human-machine hybrid methodology combining ethnographic interpretation, behavioral coding, NLP (natural-language-processing) techniques, and SNA (social-network-analysis). Xu’s book unravels the complexities of children’s moral development, exposing instances of disobedience, negotiation, and peer dynamics, in contrast to the tropes of “obedience” and “innocence” prevalent in scholarly and public discourses about Asian children. Writing through and about fieldnotes, Xu connect the two themes of the book, learning morality and making ethnography, in light of social cognition, and invites all of us to take children seriously.

Jing Xu is an anthropologist based at the University of Washington, Seattle. She holds a B.A. and M.A. from Tsinghua University, China and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis (2014). She received postdoctoral training in developmental psychology at the University of Washington. Her work examines the fundamental question of how humans become moral persons, from an interdisciplinary approach that puts anthropological and psychological theories in conversation and integrates ethnographic, experimental and computational methods. Her research spans several geographic regions and historical periods, i.e., contemporary China, Martial-Law era Taiwan, and cross-cultural comparative contexts.

She is the author of two monographs: The Good Child: Moral Development in a Chinese Preschool (Stanford University Press, 2017) and “Unruly” Children: Historical Fieldnotes and Learning Morality in a Taiwan Village (Cambridge University Press, 2024). She has published peer-reviewed articles, in English and Chinese, in journals spanning multiple disciplines, for example, American Anthropologist, Scientific Reports, Ethos, Feminist Anthropologist, Journal of Chinese History, Cross-Currents, Developmental Psychology, Child Development Perspectives, Sociological Review of China.


This event was made possible by the generous support of the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange.